Cuba’s Aging Population Presents a Problem-and Perhaps a Solution

There are a lot of older people living in Cuba. This is obvious as one travels about. It makes little difference whether  you are in  Havana or in the countryside, a lot of elderly people are there. I can say this because I too am elderly, these people are my peers. It is estimated that 20 per cent of the population is “older”, not sure what the age cut off is, but it is at least in the mid to late 60s.

There was an interesting article in the Havana Times today detailing the issues that now face Cuba in dealing with this aging group and how they will only increase with time as the population ages even more. The growth of this age group is attributed to 1) the low birth rate, less than 2 per family; and 2) the emigration of younger Cubans.  I recall Roberto Salas telling me that the US policy encouraging young people to leave by any means for the US was “genocidal!”

The facilities available for the care of the elderly in Cuba are limited. Two years ago while visiting Havana we went to an elder day care home in Regla. It was a nice spacious home right off the street. Inside there was a large sitting room accommodating 15-20 people. Some were a bit demented, others were engaged in animated conversations or were quietly reading. These people were thrilled to meet the young students with me and wanted to talk with them as best they could. Unfortunately many of the students were intimidated by  the people and were reluctant to ask for photos. I had no trouble with this since some of the clientele were younger than I was. Here was an ideal place -families brought their elderly parent or other relative in the morning, they were cared for until evening and were picked up by a family member after work. During the day they each got a good hot meal. This is not a solution to those who need nursing home care, but certainly is a decent solution for those who have supportive families and only require minor assistance with their daily life.

I also began to pay attention to those older citizens in their doorways or sitting out in front of their homes. Many were still working. Certainly there seemed to be no more older people sitting around idle than there were younger (less than 40 years) folks. Caring for the older citizenry is a problem the world over it seems, one I find more familiar year by year. This is a problem that both the US and Cuba have in common, hopefully we can learn from one another as this works itself out. The ready availability of elder day cafe and respite care seems like a good place to start in this day of all able family members needing to work.

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